8/26/2019 - My Rock and My Redeemer - Psalm 19

My Rock and My Redeemer

Psalm 19    

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Rev. Kathy Donley

August 26, 2018

The Bible is old, very old.  Sometimes I am more aware of that.  The family dramas in Genesis remind me.  Psalm 19 reminds me.  It is ancient poetry which classical musicians like Bach, Beethoven, Handel and Haydn set to music.  C.S. Lewis said “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”[1]

The first six verses are older than the rest.  They are a song of praise to God the Creator.  This section only uses the word “El” to refer to God.  El is a more generic name for God.  It can be used in reference to the God of Israel, but also more generally about any god.  This hymn, like many of the psalms, praises the God who creates and sustains creation.  This God is known, perhaps obliquely, in the beauty and order and rhythm of the cosmos.

Some of us resonate with that way of knowing God.  We might identify with the Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor.  After she left parish ministry, she and her husband found a place in country with oak trees and trillium and elderberry, persimmon and blackberry and milkweed and water.  She said, “ I found my place on earth.”  And she said, “I know plenty of people who find God most reliably in books, in buildings, and even in other people. I have found God in all of these places too, but the most reliable meeting place for me has always been the creation. I have always known where to go when my own flame was guttering. To lie with my back flat on the fragrant ground is to receive a transfusion of that same power that makes the green blade rise. To remember that I am dirt and to dirt I shall return is to be given my life back again. Where other people see acreage, timber and soil, and river frontage, I see God’s body. . . . The Creator does not live apart from creation . . . When I take a breath, God’s Holy Spirit enters me.” [2]

Some of us feel that way, but not all of us do.  Some of us would say that the creation only reveals a Creator to those who already believe or that seeing God’s glory in the on-going pattern of nature is an interpretation one chooses to make.

With that in mind, we might turn to the next section of the psalm, verses 7-11 which praises the Torah, God’s law.  Living by Torah is living life as God intended it.  Six times, this section uses the personal name for God, the name which was revealed to Moses just before the giving of the law.  What makes life possible is relatedness to God and that personal relationship is mediated by God’s instruction. 

Scholars believe that these two sections were each once independent units, a hymn to creation and a hymn to Torah, but someone put them together on purpose to make a statement.  In its current combined form, this psalm is not concerned merely with the Creator God; rather it expresses the conviction that God has broken through the silences of nature, disclosing God’s own name and speaking and acting in the historical experiences of the people of Israel.[3]  We might also add that God has come even closer in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but of course the psalm was written long before his time. 

And then there are the last few verses where the psalmist is concerned that he or she might unknowingly go against God’s instructions and asks for forgiveness.  The focus draws even closer, down to an individual life.    May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable.  The first section of the psalm speaks to me of wonder, and the second speaks of knowledge.  This last part seems to be about an interplay between the two, about the insights gained from observation and experience, about knowing my dependence on God, my ability to ignore or be unaware of my own faults, and my need for forgiveness. 

 “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  What a great one-sentence prayer.   Some translations say “be pleasing in your sight.”  How would we evaluate what is acceptable or pleasing to God?  The psalmist would point to the 10 commandments, which remain a strong guide for healthy living.  We might think of the words of the prophet Micah, “God has shown you  O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Or the words of Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

“My the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing.”  In so many ways, this psalm speaks to me of balance.  There is the balance between wondering and knowing, between the times when God seems utterly silent and the times when guidance is clear, the balance between what I say out loud and what I think internally, the balance of life which might be found in a purity of heart centered on one overriding purpose.  

E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day.” [4]  Yes. We live in God’s good world.   We also live in God’s world which is wounded and broken and desperately in need of healing.   There is a balance in how we live our days. 

Thinking of rocks and balance reminded me of the amazing people who spend time actually balancing rocks.  Apparently for some, it is a kind of spiritual practice.   So I invite you to watch this video which showcases the work of Michael Grab.  Enjoy it, wonder at it, and as you watch, allow part of your brain to begin to think about the balance or lack of balance in your own life.


There is a balance within our days and across our days.  There is a balance in the change of rhythm with the seasons.  This is our last time of worship together this summer.  I know that fall won’t officially begin for a few more weeks, but we live by a different schedule.  On our calendar, September 9 marks the beginning of the church program year.  September through December are always busy months in the life of this congregation and in many of your personal lives.  My normal rhythm, in any season, is to move from Sunday to Sunday. I’m usually planning more than one sermon, more than one worship service at a time.   On Sunday morning I live in this moment, but by Sunday evening, I’m already thinking about what comes next.  Except that today, I want to pause.  I invite you to pause with me.    Instead of looking ahead, I want to take a moment to notice what is behind us. 

I wonder what has happened in your life this summer.  Maybe you took a trip, to see family or a new landscape.  Maybe you read a great book or found a favorite new song or gathered up the courage for a hard conversation. Maybe you were energetic or ill or weary.  Within this faith community and beyond it, there have been funerals and weddings, births and deaths, with all the accompanying loss and gratitude and contentment and joy of those occasions. 

What has happened in your life this summer?  I would note two things relevant to our common life.  After five years of sharing space with the Karen congregation, they moved to their own building.  That move will make a big change in their lives and in ours and I wonder what or who God might send our way next.  I also note that this is the end of my eighth year as your pastor. I am grateful for so much and as I pause to wonder how those years passed so quickly,  I say thank you.

Today is not a momentous day, but it is the end of a season.  It is the end of a worship series built around the Psalms.  One of my favorite psalm verses says,  “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  And so we pause together to notice the passing of time, to take stock, to remember.  For the second half of the summer, we have reflected on God who is like a rock, providing a foundation for life,  and God who is like the rock that beckons us onward through the deepest, hardest, truest things.  We have sought shelter in God through worship and through the companionship of each other.  Throughout this time, we have used the refrain of the psalms “God is a my rock”.

And so, today I invite you to pause with me, to take time to remember whatever it is that you need to remember.  Perhaps it is something about the psalms – their confidence in God, their expression of the range of human life.  Perhaps it is something about your own life, a celebration, a need for forgiveness, an insight to carry with you. Maybe it is no more than the fact that God is present in all of this.   Sometimes it is good to pause and make a memory.  So, as we sing our final hymn, I invite you to take choose a rock to take home with you. There are rocks scattered around the sanctuary.  If you prefer to stay in your seat, I’ll pass a basket of rocks around.   Find a rock that speaks to you, that will remind you of what you want to remember.  Take it home, put it by your backdoor or on a shelf or in your special drawer, so that when you see it, it will remind you of God’s abiding love and powerful presence always.


[1] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1986), 63.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church:  A Memoir of Faith, (New York:  HarperOne, 2012), pp. 79-80

[3] Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths:  The Psalms Speak for Us Today (Philadlphia:  Westminster Press, 1983), p. 147

[4] Quoted in profile by Israel Shenker, "E. B. White: Notes and Comment by Author"The New York Times (11 July 1969)